EARTH LADY: Crossvine easy to grow, beneficial for hummingbirds

Crossvine has lovely brick-red trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow centers that bloom in early spring. (Margaret Gratz)

Crossvine has lovely brick-red trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow centers that bloom in early spring. (Margaret Gratz)

When it comes to vines for the wall or pergola, it is advisable to go native. We are all familiar with that invasive scourge, kudzu, and honeysuckle and Chinese wisteria also have an inclination to run amok and require constant vigilance to keep in check.

Ah, but growing in the woods is Crossvine, Bigonia capreolata, a native vine that will obligingly and rapidly cover an arbor or trellis. It is vigorous and robust, but it is manageable, unless it is in a very small area.

Crossvine has lovely brick-red trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow centers that bloom in early spring and provide a timely source of nectar for returning hummingbirds. Hummingbirds return the favor by being a very efficient pollinator. Crossvine is the host larval plant for the Rustic Sphinx moth. This vine frequently blooms at Eastertime, during Holy Week, and if a cross-section is made of this woody vine, the image of a cross is quite visible, which gives meaning to its common name.

In its natural habitat this vine is an accomplished climber as it scales tall trees in search of sunlight. Because Crossvine has tendrils (modified leaves), which have claws, it can readily climb trees or clamber up a wall or over a fence with the alacrity of Spiderman.

The leaves are a dark, glossy green and are opposite. In the South where the winters are mild, the vine is evergreen. The undersides of the leaves are a lovely mauve color. After blooming the vine sports dangling seedpods.

Crossvine frequently goes unnoticed in the woods, but after a storm in the spring the beautiful blossoms from the treetops will flutter to the ground. When you see the flowers, you will want this vine for your garden. This vine could be propagated from seed, but there are many gorgeous cultivars available at the local plant nursery that would be easier to get established. These vines will grow in full sun or part shade but will produce more flowers in full sun. Crossvine will grow in a variety of soils. It can withstand temporarily wet conditions, but after it is established is also drought resistant.

Native Americans used Crossvine for several medicinal purposes, and country boys of a bygone era were known to smoke Crossvine. The Earth Lady does not know how or even why this vine was smoked. Perhaps, one must confer with an old country boy, and there should be plenty of those around.

Crossvine is a very hardy, native vine. It is easy to grow, has beautiful flowers, has religious symbolism, and we should plant it for the hummingbirds. Sources of nectar for these Neotropical migrants are scarce in the spring and becoming more so. Red buckeye and native azaleas are early bloomers, but no other plant provides such a bountiful source of nectar as Crossvine.

Plant Crossvine for hummingbirds and keep the old country boys at bay.

The Earth Lady by Margaret Gratz appears in the Daily Journal Home & Garden section once a month.